The So Called Talent Crisis

You can buy this poster at The Keep Calm-o-matic. Click on the image to take you there.

You can buy this poster at The Keep Calm-o-matic. Click on the image to take you there.

You go to university, get an advanced degree, graduate, and then disappointed – no pissed – that the offered salaries aren’t what you think they should be, or worse, your talent is not valued. So says this piece in Digiday.

I get it. You’ve been told – no you listened to – all those experts (and educators) who said that the best education, nurturing the best talent, would land you in the job of your dreams with the salary and culture to go along with it.

You may be bringing some awesome new ideas and talent to the agency, but you just got out of school.

You have no experience. You are unproven.

You have never sat across from a client who is telling you, “I want something marvelous and innovative”, but is a) unwilling to pay (much) for it, and b) has a specific idea which he will personally art direct. To. Death.

And it doesn’t matter who you are, that breathtaking portfolio – created in the dreamy (albeit competitive) world of the classroom – has nothing to do with reality.

The creative that sells stuff is, unfortunately, reality.

Oh, I know what it’s like to know you have a lot more bankable talent than anyone is willing to pay for. But you have to learn the ropes. And that’s not the old way to do business; it is the way to do business.

When clients are squeezing every single cent out of an agency, there isn’t a whole lot of cash to go around. Especially for someone who is extraordinary but hasn’t a clue on how agencies make money.

So I don’t have a lot of sympathy for new grads who aren’t willing to do the ugly work at an agency.

Ugly is where reality lies. If you want to live in a fantasy, stay pissed. If you want to be in advertising, get real. Go to work for a crappy salary (agency salaries are always crappy at the beginning) to get some real experience.

If you pay attention and drop the arrogance, you’ll learn really important things – like where your talents can take you; learning to do what you do efficiently (aka make a profit); aligning with the people who will teach you the reality of agency life and how to work it; and how to really get what you want without whining.

Talent crisis? I think not. It’s just that the talented aren’t willing to invest one second beyond graduation in learning. It is an investment, but one with a big payoff if you’re willing to do the work, and yes, even work in a place that doesn’t have a game room or a keg of micro-brew in the break room.

Take it from me kids, I’ve been in the business nearly 40 years (even kept up with technology too – unimaginable at my age, I know) and there’s still a ton to learn.

And by the way, there are a million ad folks out there – with real, live experience – willing to teach. It’s the cheapest, most useful class you’ll ever attend.

We Start Out Hopeful Then Everything Turns To Sh*t. Or The Endurance Of The Human Spirit.

It never ceases to amaze me how people endure the most difficult, nebulous or desperate situations – and just go on. They get up. Go to work. Eat a meal. Do laundry.


My neighbor moved out yesterday. Just a guy, a small U-Haul and a day of schlepping back-and-forth. Out of a 2600-square-foot house with a pool, dying yard and eerie quiet.

When he moved there, about four years ago, it was him, his wife, his teenage sons every-other week, and eventually – his new baby. Then grandma was there every day to take care of the baby while everyone was a work and school.

Then the guy lost his job. He was out of work for more than a year. This is Las Vegas.

He quit paying the mortgage because the house was now worth less than he owed. He and his wife split – she moved out months ago. Then the house was sold on a short-sale.

Glad he was able to sell. A small victory when banks still work to make the process impossible.

That’s all behind him and he can move on.

That’s reality.

Working in an ad agency is just working in an ad agency. We act – and feel – like it’s our life. And actually, it is for most of us who love advertising. The agency becomes our family. We spend a lot of time with them, and they’re the ones who are there with you when you turn 30, 50 or 65; or when you get the call from school that your kid was spotted leaving with the red-headed-kid at 10am and you have to leave to track him down only to find they’re smoking pot in the basement; or when you find out you dad died.

Then we go on.

It’s the camaraderie, or perhaps the simple need to survive, that we stick together and show up for work every day.

We show up even when the boss does insanely stupid shit and requires endless re-works because he’s just not seeing it, only to revert back to original the work. Or doesn’t show up for days, weeks or months on end – only to finally make an appearance to tell you that now Everything is gonna change. Or despite everything you know to be true, tells you to do things in his new and improved way – because he’s just come from either an inspirational Management Summit full of gurus who bloviate on the merits of Failure, or he just got ripped a new-one because he’s just-not-doing-his-job-and-he-better-get-with-the-program-or-he-is . . . gone.

We show up and do our jobs, turn out great work – or as great as we can given the circumstances – and eventually, we short-sell, get the hell out, and start a new life.

The ability of individuals to endure, work like dogs, and still find enjoyment in a few things here and there, is truly remarkable.

You have each-other. And trust me on this: nothing lasts forever, so just carve-out what you can now and move on as soon as a good opportunity presents itself.

You are the ones making the business run. Think about it. You are remarkable. 

Absentee Management

This is about how your employees, staff, workers, come in every day, do their jobs, and save your business because you rarely, or don’t show up for work – or if you do, you only hang out in your office and drift in/drift out without so much as a hello or goodbye. (Not to mention you’re barely taking the pulse of your business).

You, business owner, are a complete jerk. Thankfully, you have people around who care more than you.

You. Do. Not. Deserve. Them.

Last night I watched an episode of The Profit, Amazing Grapes, about turning around a wine store/bar.

I could say, well I’m traveling and I watch reality TV when I have nothing else to do in the evening. Actually this reality show is worth watching. This guy looks at the bottom line and listens to the staff. I like that.

Absentee management abounds not only in this episode, but in others I’ve watched. Sad commentary on the state of small business.

But it happens in big companies too. Managers not showing up for work, much less meeting with their direct-reports on a regular basis creates stress (employees need decision-makers sometimes), creates animosity/fear, and is just plain is heinous.

But back to Amazing Grapes. Awesome, experienced and caring staff kept that place going. Marcus Limonis (aka The Profit), came in at the request of the [absentee] owner. He talked to the staff and got an earful. They care, and are treated like crap. Yet they keep working…for the owner.

For an exchange of $300-grand and 51% ownership, Limonis not only put hard cash into the business in the form of a major remodel, but made the staff owners. Twenty-five percent.

The other thing Limonis did was (in exchange for cash), was reduce the absentee owners’ shares to 24 percent. The people doing the work had the leverage to make decisions that made sense – because they understood the business.

In my line of business – working with agencies and marketing departments to work better, smarter – I see it every day. Creatives, Account, Production, Planning, name your department – are the ones making sure work gets done every day.

And every day, there is a CEO, Partner, VP, Director, Manager – who is absent. Then miraculously, one day they show up and f*ck things up.

Why? Because they don’t know what’s going on in their business.

So, when I enter an agency or marketing department, the first thing I do is talk to the people doing the work. If they’re not fearful (that’s for another post), they’ll not only tell me what they do every day, and they'll show pride in their work; but they’ll tell me about all the roadblocks along the way, how they work around them, and about all the wasted time spent (ALL NON-BILLABLE) because their manager is absent.

Not every employee gets the opportunity to own 25 percent of the business. I always tell everyone that they all own the business.

Too bad management doesn’t get that.

Now, Mr./Ms. owner, VP, CEO, Partner, go and thank your employees for keeping you in a Beamer.

And just show up for work regularly and talk to your team. They're awesome.

The Hostile Work Environment

With the recent release of Anita, the documentary about Anita Hill and the hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, I’m reminded of the importance of vigilance in our workplace.

We are all responsible for that vigilance.

Anita’s case was clearly sexual harassment; it’s defined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It was sexual harassment, it was discrimination, and it was a Hostile Work Environment.

I’ve experienced this kind of discrimination personally. I’ve left jobs (without another to go to) because of a complete asshole who wouldn’t leave me alone; and I stayed in a job (albeit for a short time) after I reported it.

It’s what happens when you report it that's a game-changer – and that’s where the proof of a company’s culture (and their commitment to follow the law) really shows.

Harassment comes in many forms. The notion of a superior asking another out for a date and retaliating when rebuffed is an easy one to figure out.

But there are so many other subtle and not-so-subtle ways to be the unfortunate recipient of offending behavior.

From offensive language, to an outright demand for quid pro quo, the range is large (however identifiable). Women as well as men can offend. And the bottom line, I’ve heard many times is this: would you talk to, or treat your mother or sister; or father or brother that way?

In other words, would you treat your closest family member like something that can be used-up, publicly humiliated, or required to perform what others would never find acceptable?

Are you uncomfortable?

We use The Reasonable Person Standard. How would the average person react or respond to the actions of another in your typical workplace? What is the acceptable norm?

If it feels wrong, if you are humiliated, if others around you can see what’s happening and feel uncomfortable, perhaps there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

It’s really scary to go to your HR department and tell them that your boss or colleague is doing something that you find offensive and won’t quit, doesn’t take a hint; or worse, thinks that their behavior is actually quite acceptable.

For most of us, the daily routine is just that. But when there is an individual who (there’s a range here): makes you wince when they make a comment, to all-out flagrant violation of their employee’s rights (or colleagues for that matter), then you have a serious issue that must be addressed.

Every company in this U. S. of A. is required by law to not only abide by, but educate their employees and enforce the laws that protect them.

Most of us who join a company are at the very least, given a handbook or view a video on rules of the company, anti-discrimination policies, and required to sign a form that we have read, understood and will comply with those laws.

That is where the “known or should have known” standard (superior or commander responsibility) comes into play.

Every company must have policies (and that education I just mentioned) in place so that if you witness discrimination, or even think you have witnessed discrimination, you must report it, and that you know how to report it – without fear of retaliation.

Maintain a zero-tolerance policy. If it feels wrong, it usually is wrong. Even in the advertising or marketing environment, where we are challenged to be ‘creative’, there are limits.

Speak out when you’re uncomfortable or are a witness to something that is just plain wrong.

If they fire you for pointing out the obvious, they’re not worth working for. They don’t deserve you.

And a little reminder, if you don’t speak up, you are a party to the problem.

I leave you with a quote:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Despondent In Advertising

What a shame to write about this. But it happens so often. People are assholes to one another.

Yeah, I know it happens in other businesses, but for some reason, my ad colleagues think it’s okay to dress-down their peers, their staff, their peers’ staff (wow, not acceptable on any level), or the guy from the local pizza place just trying to deliver grub for the latest employee "motivation" meeting.

Brilliant minds like these actually think it’s okay to perform their righteous act in public. Here's a little lesson for you, jerk ... public execution is just not cool. Went out with the dark ages, and so has your abhorrent behavior.

Lou Piniella giving a clinic on being a jerk in public. Unlike Lou, your colleagues aren't cheering you on. It looks ridiculous, doesn't it?

And get this; your HR department probably isn’t keen on the idea either.

What a hypocrite. Nurture great work and beat them down like serfs working the farm.

I guess when you have all that creative energy, and your mind is a well-spring of amazing, gooey ideas spinning around, it’s okay to yell at someone because they asked a question, or [OMG!] tried to explain their point – but you’re just too knowledgeable, and they really don’t know anything anyway.

Well, get this. They know more than you, because they’re the ones doing the work. Figuring out what you actually mean when given obtuse information. And they’re the ones cleaning up after you dismember the direction you gave last week – only to decide that isn’t what you really wanted. Or you’re seeing everything in a different, brilliant light.

Your rude, offensive behavior leads to worn out, despondent employees. Why would they ever want to work for YOU? Yes, they are despondent now, and they eventually become resentful, and one day, they leave. The ones who know how to get your work done - under the conditions you have. . . ah . . em, nurtured.


From partners to the mailroom kids, no one has the right to yell, use foul language (I can hear all you ad people howling – because it’s considered part of the culture – like jeans and black t-shirts. And hoodies. And tats. And dogs in the office. And beer on Friday. But check in with your local HR person or state employment office and maybe you’ll find you’ve been violating about a zillion laws.

Those folks have no sense of humor when it comes to abuse (I said the word), and consider the point of view of a ‘reasonable person’ when determining if you’ve stepped out of line. A reasonable person could expect x, y, or z.

X, y and z do not include being humiliated publicly. And watch your language. It can be that freedom of expression everyone uses in a creative environment that will . . . Take. You. Down.

You have something to say to one of your staff? Take them into your office and find out why they did whatever they did. It's a discussion for cripes sakes. You need to reprimand them? Get your HR person on the phone and do it right.

You have something to say about your peers’ staff? Talk to your peer and get the “offender” into the office with their boss and talk about the problem.

When you yell at someone in the office, you are the one who’s wrong. You Are An Asshole.

Yes, I used a bad word.

You deserved it.


Are You Happy At Work?

I’ve been thinking about happiness at work recently. I dwell on this a lot actually. I dwell because I’m usually called upon to work with clients who are experiencing challenges. Projects are late, over budget, clients are beating up the AEs regularly (and the AEs are allowing it), and everyone is generally pissy.

So I recalled an article I read a few months back on about Ken Bernanke tracking happiness.

What? He’s tracking happiness? Maybe he should stick to tracking the economy, gifts to banks – and bankers, and well, I don’t have to tell you…

From the article:

"The Federal Reserve chairman said Monday that gauging happiness can be as important for measuring economic progress as determining whether inflation is low or unemployment high. Economics isn't just about money and material benefits, Bernanke said. It is also about understanding and promoting "the enhancement of well-being."

So the article goes… "The Kingdom of Bhutan has been tracking happiness for four decades. The tiny Himalayan nation stopped tracking gross national product in 1972 and instead switched to measuring Gross National Happiness."

Just like out there in that big old world, when you get really local – like right there, in your office – there are measurements that must be taken and reviewed. It’s how you get the best out of everyone, eliminate (at least reduce) frustration, and just make it a better place to work. 

The article goes on to say:

“Bernanke's own definition of happiness might baffle anyone without an advanced degree. He called it a "short-term state of awareness that depends on a person's perceptions of one's immediate reality, as well as on immediate external circumstances and outcomes."”

Which also in itself a caution: don’t make it complicated. Happiness at work is simple:

Do your employees feel they have some control over the processes and outcome? And if not, perhaps it’s time to fix that.

And maybe start with: is anyone happy?

Of course I had to add kids and puppies. It's so simple.

Ask The People Doing The Work

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. C-suite, Veeps, Directors, Managers – all making decisions on solutions based on their vast knowledge of how stuff gets done in an agency.

Bet they didn’t ask the people who are actually doing the work.

I know, because I’ve been there.

Something is awry. Throw something at the problem. Like software. Or a New Process.

Layers upon layers of awesome solutions thrown at problems – often at a significant cost to the agency – and always at a significant cost of employee time. Time spent to figure out what the heck to do with that new, awesome solution.

So the people doing the work find ways to make that solution work. To fix things. That’s what solutions are supposed to do.

But without a deep understanding or even a simple evaluation of what’s going on, those solutions become problems themselves.

How do we use this new thing? Who is actually going to figure it out? Is there a standard for how we’re going to roll it out? Was everyone even notified that this was comin’?

I can speak from my own experience, and from the experience I experience whenever I work with a client that has to fix something that is just plain screwed up.

The powers that be are considering new tools or processes. When it reaches the point where the blame game is being played out every day, you have to talk to the people doing the work to find out what is wrong.

Problems, issues, complaints rise to the surface faster than bubbles on that frosty microbrew at 4pm on Friday. You have to get to the bottom of the issue before you throw a solution at a problem.

Your staff is the greatest resource to solving problems – and evaluating solutions.

Start there. It’s so much faster.

And by the way. I love the complaint department. Don't ignore them.

They have laser vision when it comes to problems.